I remember hearing a story that J. K. Rowling would use reliable Internet sites when she was writing the Harry Potter series to recall specific details from prior books in the series. At the time, I was a little shocked. Shouldn’t an author be able to keep all of the characters and locations they’ve created in their heads? It’s like forgetting that your mother’s eyes are blue or that you’ve been married for five years. There are somethings you should just know.
Now that I’m writing a series of my own, my perspective has completely changed. I can see the value in having a logical way of tracking the details of the characters and world that you create. Searching through prior books in your series, especially if the series is lengthy, is incredibly tedious. By the same token, if readers find little inconsistencies in your story, it can break their suspension of disbelief. Just because you didn’t remember that your protagonist had crooked front teeth doesn’t mean that an adoring fan won’t be horrified when you contradict yourself later.
That’s where a series bible comes in. I first heard about TV writers using it to track various episodes and seasons of a show. But it has been fully appropriated by authors to track their book series as well. Every author has a different technique, but the basics are the same. You have a binder, Excel file, sticky notes on a wall, or handwritten or typed notes, that track the characters, settings, and key plot points of each of the books in your series. The more organized and thorough you are, the more useful a tool your series bible can be.
I began my series bible as a list of all of the characters in each book, in no particular order. I listed their backstory, appearance, magical powers (since I write YA fantasy), and key information about what had happened to them so far. Sometimes I also included notes about what would happen in future books as well.
However, as the series has progressed (I’m now in the process of writing the third book in the series) it has helped to be more organized. I personally think Excel is the most logical way to keep track of a wide range of details. In addition to tracking characters, I also keep a map so I remember the geography of the world I’ve created, and details about the culture, landscape, and history of various countries that exist in that world.
Even with these details, I occasionally find myself returning to the first two books in the series for little details, so in the future I plan to be more rigorous about what I record. At its best, a series bible can be a roadmap that allows you to look backward and forward in your series and make adjustments as your story progresses.
Have you created a series bible for your novels? If so, which format did you find to be the most useful?